Category Archives: reading tips

Maintain reading skills during the summer

Students loose reading skills during the summer if they don’t continue reading.  Educators call this loss the “summer slide.”  It is most severe among low-income students who lose up to two months of reading skills.  Yet it is sometimes nonexistent among middle class students who make slight gains in reading during summer months.  Why the difference?

Summer slide (decline) of reading scores.

  • A study of 3000 sixth and seventh graders in Atlanta Public School showed that students who read at least six books during the summer maintained or improved their reading skills.  But students who didn’t read lost up to a whole grade of reading skills.  (B. Heyns, 1978)
  • A study of Baltimore students over 15 years found that By the end of fifth grade, Baltimore students who didn’t read during the summer measured two years behind their classmates who did.  They concluded that 2/3 of the reading difference in ninth graders can be attributed to reading or not during summer school breaks.  (K Alexander, D. Entwisle and L. Olson, 2007)
  • A study of students completing third grade who took part in their local libraries’ summer reading programs scored 52 Lexile points ahead of their classmates who did not. (Dominican University)
  •  Children’s absence from reading during the summer is a major hurdle for achieving good reading skills by the end of third grade.  (The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading)
  • The summer slide is cumulative.  Some estimate that by the end of high school the summer slide can account for up to a four year lag in reading achievement, and it can have an effect on high school graduation rates.  According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “one in six children who are not reading proficiently in 3rd grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.”

So how can you combat the summer slide?

  • Sign your child up for your local library’s summer reading program, and make sure your child completes the reading.
  • Go to the library regularly and let your child select books she will enjoy.
  • Help your child to read a chapter book a week, or a picture book each night.
  • Encourage your child to read the newspaper, television guides, magazines and online articles.
  • Reward your child with a trip to the book store to select her very own book.
  • Read to your child every evening, and let him read to you.  Your reading will teach fluency and pronunciation, and establish the notion that reading for pleasure is fun.

(This blog first appeared on May 16, 2014.)

How to help children figure out new vocabulary words when they read

Children need strategies to learn new vocabulary words when they encounter such words in their reading.  Here are several strategies:

Definitions: Sometimes, definitions are given immediately after a new word.  Definitions can be separated from the word with a comma (An avalanche, a quick moving mass of snow,), with a dash (An avalanche—a quick-moving mass of snow—), with the words “that is” (An avalanche, that is a quick-moving mass of snow) or with the Latin abbreviation for that is, i.e. (An avalanche, i.e. a quick-moving mass of snow,).

Comparisons: Sometimes a word is compared to another word or idea which is similar.  “A zebra is similar to a wild horse but with different markings.”

Contrasts: Sometimes a word is contrasted with another word or idea which is different from the new word.  “A mug differs from a tea cup because the mug is taller and contains more liquid.”

Context clues: Sometimes a new word can be learned from other words in the same sentence or nearby sentences.  “The car crash caused one fatality.  A woman not wearing her seat belt died.”

Examples:  Sometimes a word is explained by the example which follows it.  “Academic vocabulary is the kind tested on the SAT and ACT.  Some examples include obstacle, complement and mollify.”

Similarity to a known word: Sometimes a word will sound like or remind a student of another word.  “The child clasped her mother’s hand.”  Clasped sounds like “grasped.”

How to recognize these clues to the meaning of new words needs to be taught to children, and they need practice using each clue.  Knowing the clues will improve children’s reading comprehension, since comprehension depends so much on understanding vocabulary.

Vocabulary comes in three tiers

Educated people use a three-tiered vocabulary, according to research* done thirty years ago.

  • Tier 1 words include basic words, the working vocabulary The X factor in type facesof little children. Children do not need to be taught these words; they learn them from interacting with their caretakers and other children.  In kindergarten, some of these words are called sight words.  Usually these words do not have multiple meanings.  Such words include “no,” “dad” and “dog.”

  • Tier 2 words include words we use frequently as adults but which little children do not use. These “adult” words can be used in many contexts.  They are harder for children to learn since they have multiple meanings.  Tier 2 words add detail to our speech and writing and are necessary to learn in order to understand what we read.  ”Obvious,” “complex” and “verify” are examples.
  • Tier 3 words are used infrequently, but are necessary to speak and to read about particular areas of study. In an English class, such words might include “predicate,” “narrator” and “sonnet.”  In a medical journal such words or phrases might include “prefrontal cortex,” “neuroplasticity” and “synapses.”  These are often “idea” words used as scaffolding to build further knowledge.

The Common Core State Standards are asking teachers to teach and use Tier 3 words more.  Instead of saying the “action word,” teachers say the “verb.”  Instead of asking for the “total,” teachers ask for the “sum.”

What this means is that students, beginning in primary grades, are being taught Tier 3 vocabulary words.  Children are expected to know what “analyze” and “cite” mean, and they are expected to use those words, not euphemisms, in explaining their thinking or behavior.  And when words like those appear on state-wide, end-of-year exams, children are expected to know what they mean and know how to respond accordingly.

You, as parents, can reinforce Tier 3 vocabulary by using appropriate academic vocabulary with your children.  Harry Potter is the protagonist of his stories.  Three and two are factors of six.  Anne Frank’s diary is a primary source.  Arthropods have an exoskeleton.

Children need to master certain Tier 3 words in order to understand directions from teachers and directions on tests.  We will talk more about these words in future blogs.

*Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L.  (2002).  Bringing words to life.  New York:  Guilford.

Pride and Prejudice for babies? Anna Karenina for toddlers?

Several publishers have begun offering pint-sized versions of literary classics like Old Man and the Sea, Moby Dick and War and Peace for infants, toddlers and primary grade readers.

mobyFor $6.99, Cozy Classics (http://www.mycozyclassics.com/books/) offers Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.  These board books pair one word per page with one image.  Moby Dick, for example is reduced to these 12 words:  sailor, boat, captain, leg, mad, sail, find, whale, chase, smash, sink and float.  The illustrations are photos of felt-made scenes, giving the books a fuzzy feel.

For $9.99 Baby Lit (https://babylit.com/collections/books/Classic-Lit) offers board books such as The Odyssey, Jayne Eyre and Anna KareninaAnna Karenina?  A novel about a annakmarried woman who has an affair, is ostracized by society, becomes paranoid and commits suicide?  Yes, but the Baby Lit version focuses not on the story but on the fashions of 1876 St. Petersburg—ball gowns, parasols, gloves and military uniforms.

For $16.95 KinderGuides (https://www.kinderguides.com/) offers four classics (more to come) for children of six years old or older.  oldmanThe books, which are sanitized guides for the original novels, include Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey, On the Road, and The Old Man and the Sea.  Each book contains a summary of the original story, information about the author, key words and characters, and a quiz.

 

Learn vocabulary through online games

One key to reading well is to understand many vocabulary words.  Is there a fun way to learn new vocabulary words?  How about learning through online vocabulary games?

http://www.vocabulary.co.il offers many kinds of vocabulary learning games, a few of which are described below.

  • Prefixes offers matching games for various grade levels.  For third through fifth graders, four prefixes appear on the left and four meanings appear on the right.  Click on one prefix; then click on its matching meaning and a line connects them.  When all four have been matched, click on the “check answers” tab, and check marks appear in front of the correct matches.
  • Foreign-language offers matching and other games for English-Spanish, English-French, English-German, and English-Latin learners.
  • Word scrambles ask the player tot unscramble given letters to form a word. You can press “hint” for help.  A clock keeps track of your speed in finding the correct word.
  • Idiom games include matching games and choosing the right meaning of a phrase from four possible choices.
  • Spelling games include word searches, unscrambling of words and choosing the correct part of speech for a given word.
  • Syllable games ask the player to divide words into syllables.
  • SAT vocabulary games offer various kinds of word-building games for older kids.

Twenty-four different kinds of vocabulary learning are offered, and from them, usually there are many choices in kinds of games to play and age or grade level choices.

Bookmark gifts for child readers

Books make great holiday gifts for children, and so do special bookmarks tucked inside.  If you search online you will find hundreds of bookmarks, some to buy and some to make.  Here are a few that caught my eye, plus some “handcrafted” ones.

photo-of-book-mark-of-pen-pointPage Nibs are tiny metal book marks (one inch by ½ inch) shaped like the points of fountain pens. Children can move the bookmarks up and down a page as they read.  If children forget which line of text they have just read, using one of these line markers makes it easier to remember.  They’re also good for adults who want to know precisely where they left off reading on a given page.  Click on the “nibs” photo for more information.

pointing-finger-on-rubber-band-like-bookmark

Fingerprint Bookmark Bands are large rubber band-like book marks including a hand as part of the band. The hand’s index finger is pointed.  The whole thing can be slipped around an open book with the finger pointing to the line where the reader stopped.  Click on the “fingerprint” photo for more information.

houses-of-hogwart-bookmarksMetal bookmarks featuring the four houses of Hogwarts might thrill your Harry Potter readers. They along with other Harry Potter bookmarks are available from Amazon. Click on the “Harry Potter” bookmarks photo for more information.

photos-of-children-bookmarksFor the do-it-yourselfer, click on the photo at the left to find easy directions on how to create a bookmark out of a photo of a child.

Another do-it-yourselfer is a piece of cardboard (a cut up manila file will do) on which you write the child’s name and date at the top (for example, winter 2016-2017) and “Books read.” Underneath draw lines where the child can write the names of books read.  When filled in, save it in the child’s baby book.

Still another do-it-yourselfer is to trace the hand of your child at the beginning or end of every year or on every birthday. Trace the hand onto cardboard, write the date and the child’s name, and laminate.  Punch a hole through the top, and add a tassel.  Children love to measure their growth.

The child’s own signature on a card can make a great bookmark.  Laminate the card, and if you like, punch a hole and add a tassel.

How to encourage multiple perspectives on a reading topic

When students take Advanced Placement (AP) courses, they must read and analyze several documents on a given topic.  Those documents come from various sources, such as diaries, government publications, laws, news reports, emails and speeches.  The documents approach the topic from various perspectives, such as a private citizens, columnists, people with a grudge, historians and mental health experts.

EPSON MFP image

From all these documents students are asked to understand a complicated issue and to make sense of it.

Can we work with young readers, even beginning readers, to encourage a similar wider, multifaceted understanding of a topic?  Can we help children to identify important ideas and then help them to compare and contrast those ideas through various reading sources?  Can we help our earliest readers to become critical thinkers?

Yes.  One way is by choosing several books or other reading sources which approach a topic from different perspectives or genres.  First, decide on a question you would like the student to explore, such as, What was it like to take the Oregon Trail? or Why do polar bears need ice?  To have the greatest impact, the topic should be one the student is studying or a seasonal or timely topic.  Together the sources should give a wider and more profound understanding than any one source alone can give.

Here are some examples for primary grade students.

graceforpres

The question might be, Can a girl be President?  Show the student a copy of The Constitution and explain what it is.  Then have reproduced the appropriate lines from Article II defining the President’s qualifications.  Discuss what they mean.  Then have the student read Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio, about a little girl who decides to run for president at her school.  Discuss how hard it is to become President.  Finally, your child could read a biography of Hillary Clinton, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton:  Some Girls Are Born to Lead by Michelle Markel or Who is Hillary Clinton? by Heather Alexander.  Discuss whether Mrs. Clinton has the qualifications needed, and what other strengths might be needed to be a President.

If the question is What’s an idiom? your student could start with In a Pickle: And Other Funny Idioms by Marvin Terban. This book explains what an idiom is and then illustrates well-known idioms with funny drawings.  Next, your child could read Raining Cats and Dogs: A Collection of Irresistible Idioms and Illustrations to Tickle the Funny Bones of Young People by Will Moses.  This book illustrates common idioms, but goes one step further:  it explains how the idioms came to be.  My Teacher is an Idiom by Jamie Gilson shows what happens in a fictional second grade when a new student from France misunderstands English idioms, and when the English-speaking kids misunderstand French idioms.  The reader learns that all cultures have idioms, but sometimes they do not translate into another language.

If the question is What is the water cycle? you could explore Water is Water:  A Book about the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul.  With poetry and evocative art, readers follow two children as they pass through the water cycle as water goes from rain outside to steam in the tea pot to evaporation into clouds.  In The Drop in my Drink: The Story of Water on Our Planet by Meredith Hooper, readers travel back to a young planet Earth to find out where water came from and to learn about erosion and how all living things depend on water.  National Geographic Readers: Water by Melissa Stewart shows more about the water cycle through beautiful photography and easy reading words.